Loudoun Supervisors Tackle ‘Unenforceable’ Noise Rule

The Board of Supervisors’ Transportation and Land Use Committee will work on a fix for a noise law that the county sheriff stopped enforcing in 2013 because of a state Supreme Court decision.

“The ordinance that we currently have is unenforceable,” Sheriff’s Office Captain Greg Brown told the Board of Supervisors this week.

After the Virginia Supreme Court in 2009 struck down a noise law in Virginia Beach for relying on an unconstitutionally vague “reasonable person” standard, Loudoun and other localities across the state were forced to take a second look at their own rules. Loudoun’s was found to rely on a similar standard.

The county ordinance, adopted in 1982, regulates “unreasonable noise.” It states: “The making, creation or maintenance of excessive, unnecessary or unusually loud noises which are prolonged, unreasonable or unusual in their time, place and use, affect and are a detriment to the public health, comfort, safety and welfare of the County and its inhabitants.”

The sheriff stopped enforcing that noise ordinance in December 2013.

“From that point forward, the sheriff’s office when responding to these complaints can only act as intermediaries,” Brown said. “Most of the time we can resolve these issues, but there are times that we cannot resolve the issues.”

Captain Greg Ahlemann said the sheriff’s office can often resolve noise complaints through other laws, if necessary—such issuing underage drinking citations. Still, without an enforceable noise law, deputies are sometimes handicapped.

“When we respond, many people aren’t aware that that ordinance has been suspended, but they figure it out relatively quickly,” Brown said.

Supervisor Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian) attempted to send a staff-proposed ordinance, which creates a more objective standard, directly to public hearing, but met resistance from other board members.

Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) said he and Sheriff Michael Chapman shared concerns that the proposed ordinance could unintentionally impact lawful discharge of firearms. Other supervisors agreed that the proposal needed more work before it goes to a public hearing.

“Public hearing is primetime,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles), who saw problems with the times of day mentioned in the proposed ordinance. “This is not ready for primetime.”

Volpe had hoped to send the new ordinance to a public hearing to match up with a zoning ordinance that also deals with noise. The codified ordinance is meant to handle incidental noises; the zoning ordinance deals with persistent noises, such as from data centers. Supervisors voted to send both ordinances to the Transportation and Land Use Committee, which Volpe chairs.


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